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‘Iron Man’ strongarms foreign box office

Paramount, Marvel film up to $123 million overseas

One down, a dozen or so to go.

“Iron Man” kicked off the summer tentpole season in foreign markets in socko fashion, launching with more than

$98 million in its opening frame and adding another $25 million on May 5-6.

The sterling performance heightened anticipation that U.S. studios’ array of upcoming titles — such as “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “Speed Racer,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” “The Dark Knight,” “Hancock,” “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” “Wanted,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Happening,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Wall-E” — will hit the mark outside the U. S.

In a sign that international moviegoers are hungry for big-budget “event” pics, “Iron Man” nearly became the 11th film to launch at more than $100 million. The record holder is last May’s $251 million launch of “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”; of the 10 pics to cross the century mark upon opening, only two weren’t sequels — “The Da Vinci Code” and “War of the Worlds.”

Marvel’s tentpole, handled by Paramount in most territories, came in well above expectations since the Iron Man character had not yet been established in many markets prior to the worldwide marketing blitz. The best foreign result came in the U.K. with $11.2 million at 500 locations in its opening four days; including previews of $1.3 million, the pic had cumed

$15.1 million as of May 6.

One British exhibitor noted the numbers looked particularly impressive in light of warm temps. “Iron Man” has “proved a real weather beater,” he added. “What better way to get the summer season up and running.”

“Iron Man” scored particularly well in action-oriented markets outside Western Europe. Mexico scored the second-highest debut with

$9.8 million, followed by South Korea with $8.2 million in the opening frame; the Korean grosses hit $11.8 million as of May 6.

Australian audiences shelled out $7.2 million in the first week. Brazil proved hugely receptive, with $6.3 million in its first week, as did Russia with

$5.3 million; Taiwan, the Philippines and Singapore all checked in with more than $2 million in less than a week.

Western European markets saw results that were impressive but short of spectacular. In Italy, “Iron Man” flexed its muscles to magnetize $5 million from 509 in an otherwise flat four-day May Day holiday frame, more than doubling the “Saw 4” launch.

In Spain, “Iron Man” nabbed $6.1 million off 554 over its first five days and accounted for 39% of total trade, although some expectations were a touch higher. One booker noted that the coming clash this weekend between “Iron Man” and “Speed Racer” will put the Robert Downey Jr. vehicle to the test.

“Iron Man” did not disappoint in its Gallic box office bow, pulling in $7.2 million via SND. By contrast, “Iron Man” soared to the top of the charts in Germany but the May Day holiday and warm, sunny skies proved a major challenge as the pic garnered $3.4 million from 632 locations.

The Teutonic market’s traditionally tough for superhero pics; while the “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” franchises have proved successful in Germany, 2005’s “Batman Begins” and 2006’s “Superman Returns” both opened with only $2.3 million, and last summer’s “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” debuted with just $1.2 million.

Also underlining the world’s appetite for action, Jackie Chan-Jet Li actioner “Forbidden Kingdom” led the rest of the pact with $14.1 million from soph seshes in Asian markets after easily winning the previous frame with $18.6 million. As of May 4, “Kingdom” had cumed more than $37 million internationally, $8 million behind its domestic total.

In Japan, “Aibo — Gekijoban” topped the Golden Week weekend, scoring $11.4 million at 300. “Aibo” started as a TV drama and has racked up more than 100 episodes in six seasons; pic’s helmer, Seiji Izumi, and its main cast are all from the TV series.  

In France, megahit “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” (Welcome to the Sticks) continues on its way to shattering all records in Gaul, with more than 19.7 million French tickets sold as of May 4. It’s a mere 1.2 million short of usurping “Titanic” for the prize of biggest box office performer in the country’s history; though released in only four markets, the comedy’s topped $204 million for Pathe.

Counterprogrammers to “Iron Man” scored small slices of the rest of the market, led by Sony’s day-and-date launch of “Made of Honor” with $6.4 million from 1,335 in 21 markets; Warner’s “Fool’s Gold” with $4.2 million at 1,669 in 40 markets; Sony’s “21” with $4.1 million at 1,555; and Universal’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” with $3.9 million at 1,000 in nine markets, mostly from a $2.7 million second frame in the U.K. as it nearly doubled the “Made of Honor” launch.

Family fave “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!” grabbed $3.7 million at 1,776 for a $132 million international cume.

Mark Schilling in Japan, Ed Meza in Germany, Emilio Mayorga in Spain, Nick Vivarelli in Italy and David Hayhurst in France contributed to this report.

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